Ezekiel blog: The end of a crocodile

Ezekiel has moved on. He’s over Tyre. Now he’s following the money trail down to Egypt – an admittedly touchy subject for the leadership of Jerusalem.  It’s important to keep in mind that these sections on Egypt are not in chronilogical order.

There’s a lot of content here, “lotta history” as they say. So Ezekiel has to break this up into sections, much like he had to do with Tyre/Phoenicia. Seven sections to be exact.  There were six prophetic sections against six other nations leading up to this point, so Egypt becomes the seventh – finishing the cycle, and as noted earlier, seven chapters are dedicated to this purpose.  It is well documented that the number seven represented perfection in Hebrew writing.  So we can infer from this that this completes a Perfect cycle of judgements by God.

There are many reasons given in Ezekiel chapter 29 as to why Ezekiel is the object of judgement. In fact, this chapter reads as a general summary of all the other chapters dealing with Egypt.  We have two different accusations about Pharoah, we have promises of invasion by Babylon, 40 years of tribulation, the scattering of Egypt, and the general restoration of its people.  It’s a whole smorgassbord of of topics.

Is this just an old grudge against Egypt resurfacing in Ezekiel’s writing?  The content we have examined from Ezekiel indicates that he was reinterpreting Israel’s past to understand current events and more importantly, look to the future. Ezekiel’s purpose here is to show how Egypt is linked to the decision structure that led to the current state of captivity for the people of Israel.  This will become more clear in Ezekiel chapter 31,  however there are some clues in this first chapter.  More on this later.

Pharoah is compared with a dragon, or water monster, of which almost all commentaries relate to the crocodile which inhabits the Nile river.  An appropos analogy.  But, basically verses 4-5 give us the impression that God is about to make Pharoah a “fish out of water”, hooked and then discarded in a field in the wilderness.  What is important here is the reference to all the “little fish” that will be drawn up with the big fish,…little fish attached to the scales of the Dragon.  That same kind of reference is used by police to decribe nefarious activity, being willing to make deals with the little fish in order to catch the big fish.  So, who could these little fish be?

As in crime, it is the kind of People Who Enable the larger culprit to succeed, and at the same time profit along the way.  For Pharoah, it probably was the high priests, the financial brokers, the politicians and diplomats on the take, etc.  It’s the same type of human behavior that leaves us modern type people feeling – well, just as betrayed as Pharoah.  And once again, it is the people who suffer and have to be redeemed.

Verse six gives us a clue that ties this section of prophecy together with the previous oracles against Tyre.  Here, Egypt is compared to a “Staff of Reed” for Israel.   In other words, an unreliable tool that looks like it would do the job, but ultimately crumbles or collapses under pressure.  Why would Egypt need a reliable tool in the case of Egypt?   This will be covered later during the exploration of Ezekiel chapter 31.  But, the relationship between Jerusalem and Tyre are key to understanding this verse.

Again, there is the usual condemnation of the over self-congratulatory statements of the rulers of Egypt – comparing themselves to a God, and worse, claiming to have made the Nile.  It is to this that God declares that a sword is coming for Egypt, a sword that is the special tool of God. To say it differently, the fall of Egypt’s current leadership is an ordained event by God.

Now, as mentioned before, these chapters are not in chronological order.   Verse 17, is literally 17 years later than verse 1.   Seventeen years of effort by Babylon to bring Jerusalem and Tyre under control.  As a reward for the effort, Babylon’s army’s will revel in the plunder of Egypt.  So, after failing to bring down Tyre, the war weary army turns its attention to Egypt and will succeed, indicating that Egypt was not so very strong from a military point of view; a Staff of reed indeed.

Ezekiel blog: Purple trilogy part II

Ezekiel 27:  “For what it’s worth”….

Imagine that you grow vegetables and have a produce stand.  You are producing more vegetable stock than you can sell.  What’s more, your gardens are more than slightly vulnerable to the neighbors who like to run their ATV’s through your fields on occassion.  You think you could really make a lot more money than you are pulling in right now because of your abundant produce.  What do you do?

I asked this question to a friend of mine who specializes in business to business consulting.  After a few moments of consideration, he said the strategy mostly likely to be successful was to find a partner to help expand your markets. BINGO!!! It turns out that is exactly what Israel and Judah, and specifically the rulers of Jerusalem had done.

They found a partner, a business partner, in the form of Tyre who we recognize today as the Phoenicians.  There is ample documentation of this business relationship whithin Biblical scripture going all the way back to King David who recieved a shipment of fine wood from Tyre.  Solomon continued the relationship.  We have documentation of Queen Jezebel who was a daughter of Phoenician royalty married to a Prince of Jerusalem.

There is not a lot of detail about the specifics of the Trade Agreement between Jerusalem and Tyre.  Historians make note of the access to Hebrew markets(Note 1 below)  for Tyre’s trade goods as a result of the partnership. This is where Ezekiel steps in (Ezekiel chapter 27) to provide some valuable insight and it is from there that we begin to learn exactly why Ezekiel is mentioning Tyre at all in his writings. It turns out that the situation is more significant that would appear on the surface.  But first, back to our vegetable stand….

I asked my friend, the business to business consultant, how would one go about finding a partner and establishing the partnership? The answer was, “Raise Capital”, capital to attract investors, capital to finance expansion, capital as collateral against investment risk.  Hmmm.  So Tyre, at the time had the greatest trading network in that part of the world.   Ezekiel chapter 27 gives an extensive list of the kind of trade volume that they handled and an explicit list of trade inventory.  It also mentions the types of goods and products being received from both Judah and Israel VS. 17 “Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections,[e] honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.”

Along with a healthy trade agreement would come responsibility on the part of both parties to safeguard and protect the investment while goods were in route and payment was being collected and banked upon.  From Jerusalem’s point of view, this would require yet more capital and a commit of military presence for security.

So, it should be striking as more and more apparent that “raising capital” in Bronze Age times (as much as at any point in history) by a ruling aristocracy would come in the form of raising taxes or increasing the burden carried by its people.  Perhaps longer work was required. Perhaps a higher amount of product was required by the state leaving less for the actual population. Perhaps less services were spared for the people of Israel and Judah by their own princes in order to finance and maintain this lucrative trade agreement.  The important thing to meditate upon, here in Ezekiel’s lament, is what it means to raise capital to a landlocked, desert bound country.  What does raising capital mean to a corporation today? How far should one go? When is enough, enough?

In all of these speculative perhap’s, it would be the children who suffered most.  And this is the point that Ezekiel hammered on the most when condemning the atrocities of the rulers of Jersusalem.  Ezekiel called them out graphically for sacrificing their children, children who may have been deprived of food or adequate policing in the streets, children whose parents had to work longer hours to provide food for the table but remained in poverty, and children who grew to young men and inducted into security forces of the state and stationed with the forces of Tyre.  In any regard it is clear that at least  three prominent kings of Israel had extensive dealings with Tyre, and as there was a royal presence, it is plausible that there was a royal guard as well to protect the royal investment.  Funny how times change, but the governmental/business situations do not.

Ezekiel doesn’t tell us in Chapter 27 too much about Tyre’s actions that deserved punishment – though many commentators focus on the wealth and the nature of the trade.  We know from other narratives that Elijah chastised the married queen Jezebel for polluting the faith of the temple, but more on that in the next blog.  All we get to consider here is that Tyre considered herself “Perfect in beauty” on the high sees – a very popular friend to be had.

Yet at the end of this lament, we see that all of those friends who are mentioned verse 33,  “When your merchandise went out on the seas, you satisfied many nations;…”, they all abandon Tyre to her fate of being invaded over and over again.  Ezekiels states that all the kings “…shudder with horror…” at Tyre’s downfall, but do nothing but hide their faces. No one comes to Tyre’s aid as no one came to Jerusalem’s aid.

It would appear that fair weather friends are easy to find, but hard to keep at your side. Ezekiel writes:

“Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surround by the sea?”


As Footnote/Endnote:
1. Joshua J. Mark, “Tyre,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified September 02, 2009, http://www.ancient.eu /Tyre/.

2. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0016_0_15729.html